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Adjusting To Life In A Retirement Home 'Not As Scary As I Thought'

Camille Miller (left) is still trying to adjust to her new life in a retirement community. She gets advice from Morris Gordon, who made a similar move earlier this year.
Patti English; Nicole Acevedo
Camille Miller (left) is still trying to adjust to her new life in a retirement community. She gets advice from Morris Gordon, who made a similar move earlier this year.

When you're facing a major life change, it helps to talk to someone who has already been through it. All Things Considered is connecting people on either side of a shared experience, and they're letting us eavesdrop on their conversations in our series Been There.

At 70 years old, Camille Miller was not excited about leaving her home. For 35 years, it had been her refuge.

"When you walk through the threshold, your blood pressure just drops," she says. "I almost start crying when I talk about it."

Camille had just finished a big renovation, and had finally gotten her dream kitchen. And after a time-intensive career at a Texas nonprofit, she'd been looking forward to the day when she could try out all the recipes she'd saved up over the years.

Then her husband Bill got sick.

He'd always been responsible for paying the taxes and taking care of the bills. Then the Millers' phone got shut off. Bill had forgotten to pay the telephone company. His memory problems were getting worse and he needed a scooter to get around. Camille had her hands full.

So the Millers found themselves making a difficult decision. They needed to move into senior housing — an apartment in a continuing care community in Austin, Texas.

Morris Gordon made the move seven months ago, shortly after his wife died.

Morris is 86. His kids live far from his home in Minneapolis, and they insisted he couldn't live alone anymore. Like Camille, Morris was uneasy about the change.

"I thought that being in a nursing home was a place where you sat all day and clapped your hands to 'Ring Around the Rosie' or other childhood things," he says. "I didn't see myself sitting in there and waiting for the day to die."

But he tells Camille that he's now happier in his new digs.

"Nobody was able to tell me the outcome of my move," he says. "But I'm so happy that things seem to be turning out in ways that I can accept and feel comfortable with."

This has been lightly edited for clarity.

Advice from Morris Gordon

On integrating into the community

The biggest help I think, is I'm part of the meal program. We have five dinners a week that they cook. It's pretty communal. And the people that I was eating with became friends. I found out that instead of being timid, because I was afraid they wouldn't approve of me or whatever it was, I discovered over time that they were a very interesting group and very hospitable, gentle and welcoming and warm-hearted people, and day by day the relationships kind of thickened and, if you compare it to cooking, made a good soup with a good flavor and the right temperature.

On what he's had to give up

I had hoped to invest more time in travel in my old age — and that doesn't look like it's on the horizon. But you know something? It's not something that I lament. There's other stuff around beside the traveling. I'm traveling whilst remaining at the same place with my new experiences that I have here at the home.

On the best part of the move

It's not as scary as I thought it would be. I've learned to put up with old age, I enjoy being with the new people, the things I was afraid of, it was just a story I told myself which didn't correspond to real life.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Sam Gringlas is a journalist at NPR's All Things Considered. In 2020, he helped cover the presidential election with NPR's Washington Desk and has also reported for NPR's business desk covering the workforce. He's produced and reported with NPR from across the country, as well as China and Mexico, covering topics like politics, trade, the environment, immigration and breaking news. He started as an intern at All Things Considered after graduating with a public policy degree from the University of Michigan, where he was the managing news editor at The Michigan Daily. He's a native Michigander.